×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Slanguage

Well-honed individual talents of five New York-based spoken-word virtuosos have been molded by helmer Jo Bonney into a seamless, undulating force of razor-edged, big-city social commentary.

With:
Performers: Mildred Ruiz, Steven Sapp, Gamal Abdel Chasten, Dominic Colon, Ninja.

The well-honed individual talents of five New York-based spoken-word virtuosos have been molded by helmer Jo Bonney into a seamless, undulating force of razor-edged, big-city social commentary. Performing as the collective Universes, performance artists Mildred Ruiz, Steven Sapp, Gamal Abdel Chasten, Flaco Navaja and Lemon burst onto the Gotham scene in 2001 at New York Theater Workshop. For this local preem, under the auspices of the Center Theater Group’s visionary Taper, Too, Navaja and Lemon have been replaced by word conjurers Dominic Colon and Ninja, but the group has lost none of its infectious, cohesive energy.

Underscored and enhanced by the integrated production design of Yael Pardess (sets/projections), Christopher Akerlind (lights) and Darron L. West (sounds), “Slanguage” is an audiovisual collage of words, movement, music and rhythm that impresses with its originality and unity of execution.

The group’s musical sophistication is especially surprising. Blasting through the fractured syntax of New York urban culture, the quintet exhibits the melodic veracity of a seasoned doo-wop group and the contrapuntal percussion of an adroit rhythm section.

The throughline of “Slanguage” is a surrealistic subway ride that begins in Brooklyn and makes its way to the Bronx. Along the way, the ensemble darts in and out of alleyways of sight and sound, layering and overlapping their verbal jousts and philosophical, street-smart observations.

The production is imbued with references to the myriad influences that have invaded their psyches, from kung-fu movies to Beat poets to Dr. Seuss.

As well as they meld together as an ensemble, each of the five also stands out as an individual artist. Co-founding member Ruiz is the earth mother of the group. Her womanly, no-nonsense presence offers a staunch stability to the often macho preening of her male counterparts. Ruiz’s full-throttled vocals also supply the musical foundation for the others to build on, as showcased to memorable effect when the ensemble rips through a unique rendition of “Rockin’ Robin” that celebrates the wonders of sexual self-gratification.

Sapp, the elder statesman of the group, acts as emcee, leading and instructing the audience in the correct manner of appreciating the group’s offerings. A soulful manipulator of “freelance figure of speech,” Sapp exudes a captivating presence in his solo turn on “Original Beat,” celebrating such word liberators of the past as Jack Kerouac, Lenny Bruce, Allen Ginsberg and Amiri Baraka.

Chasten moves about the stage with a physical grace that’s captivating on its own. His tribute to Bruce Lee is a beautifully executed amalgam of word imagery and ballet-like martial arts movement.

The newest members of the ensemble, Colon and Ninja, evoke a pulsating Latino presence within the group. They lead the ensemble into a joyful examination of “Nuyoricanism” with all its linguistic variations. The ensemble offers a hilarious but telling re-creation of a bilingual education class where the children are linguistically and culturally torn asunder. In solo turns, Ninja offers a hilarious confrontation between two gangs waging a “war of slang”; Colon is memorable as he conjures up the image of life-stifling confinement “within the joint,” where the only solace is the occasional “cooling breeze” from the free world.

As a fitting summary to the evening, Sapp describes the efforts of Universes as “another autobiography from at-risk agitators, assaulting and assembling articulation and alliteration, from Allah to ‘Amos ‘n’ Andy.’ “

Slanguage

Ivy Substation, Los Angeles; 99 seats; $30 top

Production: A Center Theater Group/Mark Taper Forum Taper, Too, presentation, in association with the New York Theater Workshop, of a performance piece in one act by Universes (Mildred Ruiz, Steven Sapp, Gamal Abdel Chasten, Flaco Navaja and Lemon), developed and directed by Jo Bonney.

Crew: Sets and projections, Yael Pardess; lights, Christopher Akerlind; sounds, Darron L. West. Opened and reviewed May 7, 2004; runs through May 23. Running time: 90 MIN.

Cast: Performers: Mildred Ruiz, Steven Sapp, Gamal Abdel Chasten, Dominic Colon, Ninja.

More Scene

  • 'Schitt's Creek' Stars Reveal Dream Guest

    'Schitt's Creek' Cast Reveals Dream Guest Stars: Oprah, Beyonce and ...

    “Schitt’s Creek” has big dreams. Dan Levy, who stars as David on the series, says his wish list of guest stars includes Oprah, Beyonce, Mariah Carey and Gwyneth Paltrow. “All for different reasons, none of whom we’ll get,” he cracked at the Critics’ Choice Awards. For those who haven’t caught on to the “Schitt’s Creek” [...]

  • Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bundchen

    Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bündchen to Be Honored at UCLA Science Gala

    Science can be very glamorous. It certainly will be during Oscar week on Feb. 21 when the UCLA Institute of the Environment & Sustainability (IoES) honors Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bündchen for environmental activism at its annual Hollywood for Science Gala. “When I moved to LA, the air was unbreathable. Rivers were catching fire in [...]

  • Don Cheadle and Andrew Rannells Black

    Don Cheadle, Andrew Rannells Talk Snorting 'Coke' on 'Black Monday'

    “Black Monday” show creators David Caspe and Jordan Cahen divulged an intriguing detail to come later in the first season of the new Showtime comedy at its world premiere, held at the Theatre at Ace Hotel on Monday night in Los Angeles. “The fourth or fifth episode opens with a sexual harassment seminar, which very well [...]

  • Alfonso Cuaron attends the 44th Annual

    Alfonso Cuarón to LAFCA: 'Thanks to Your Help We Can Break Down Walls'

    Inclusion was the big winner at the L.A. Film Critics Association Awards, which was held Saturday night at the InterContinental in Century City. “This year’s winners are the most diverse in LAFCA’s 43-year history,” announced its president, Claudia Puig, adding that 14 out of their 18 awards were won by women and people of color. [...]

  • Mandatory Credit: Photo by Max Malandrino/REX/Shutterstock

    Hollywood Power Players Assemble to Save Iconic Deli Nate 'n Al

    A group of Hollywood executives and celebrities have banded together with the intent to save Beverly Hills deli and star haunt Nate ‘n Al, a stone’s throw from tourist destination Rodeo Drive. A consortium of investors including music kingpin Irving Azoff and wife Shelli, Universal Filmed Entertainment Group chairman Jeff Shell, and Rande Gerber and [...]

  • Charlie Collier, FOX Chief Executive Officer

    'The Passage' Team Talks Diversifying Races, Genders and Ages of Book Characters

    “The Passage” star Saniyya Sidney was unaware that the book version of her character was originally white until her father, a fan of Justin Cronin’s apocalyptic trilogy, informed her during the audition process. “I was like, ‘Oh, she is?'” Sidney told Variety at Thursday’s series premiere in Santa Monica, Calif. “And when I got it, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content